Summertime is a season to slow down, and when clients are planning and taking vacations we sometimes find business slows down just a bit as well. June provides a moment to catch our breaths and spend some much-deserved time enjoying the beauties and luxuries of the season.
If your business is in the Sun Belt, summer is a season for retreating from the intense heat and the sometimes unbearable humidity. If your business is in a climate where summers are hot and humid and winters are cold and sometimes brutal, summer also is a time for escape. If your business is where the climate offers arid or dry summers, then an oasis is just the ticket for a summer sanctuary.
By definition, an oasis is a fertile or green area in an arid region. Historically, nomadic peoples who typically were shepherds would come to the oasis to replenish their stock of dried fruits and items they could not produce, refill their water containers, and be refreshed in the coolness of the shade trees and the exotic beauty of the flowers and plants that were to be found only at the oasis.
In our modern lives today the demands of living in a high-tech, fast-paced society often can make life seem like a desert, void of the life-enhancing luxury of an oasis. We all need a sanctuary-our own oasis-today more than ever. There must be a place where we can escape the deserts of our lives; a place where we can go to be rejuvenated and restored to fuller emotional and physical health; a place where we can go to relax and unwind; a place to forget the pressures of our work lives.
GIVE ME A BREAK
Relaxation seems to be at a premium these days. Perhaps because we physically take our work with us wherever we go. The lap top or notebook computer, the cell phone, the pager-electronic equipment we cannot live without have become the balls and chains we cannot (or dare not) escape!
In the interior design profession in particular it is difficult to relax physically, emotionally and mentally. We take our problems with us everywhere, even to bed at night where we sometimes search the ceiling for solutions. We constantly think about decorating and designing creative possibilities and our clients' reactions to them; about closing sales, processing orders, the inevitable trouble shooting, collecting the deposit and the balance due; about marketing, scheduling-the list goes on. For many it is not the kind of job we do just during working hours; it is our life.
Yet rest and relaxation are essential for good health not only for us, but for everyone. That has been shown by studies in the health care professions. Those who work continually without a physical and mental break will burn-out, develop health problems or disease, break down emotionally or physically, possibly develop chronic fatigue syndrome, and strain family and personal relations. Without a break, one can lose a healthy perspective and become cranky. Does anyone you know fit into this category? The saying goes something like this: All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) more than dull, it makes them intolerable!
In a seminar I recently presented in Atlanta at the International Window Coverings Expo, entitled "Balancing Business and Self: The Win-Win Way of Life," I was surprised to learn how few designers and decorators do little things for themselves for rejuvenation. We all seem to be in the same boat: working too much, too long, too hard and too often burning out and experiencing a host of emotional stresses that turn into health problems.
Something as mild as stiff muscles or the inability to concentrate is the result of not enough rest and relaxation. More pronounced problems also include chronic headaches, TMJ (stiff jaw), pain or numbness in the stressed part of the body and blurred vision. The development of internal disorders also can be linked to work and stress. We have known for years that ulcers may be caused by too much worry.
What else could be the result of overwork? The relatively new field of alternative medicine deals with the underlying causes of severe health problems. The results of both formal and informal studies are quite surprising: most people who have had life-threatening illnesses also are victims of emotional or mental problems they could not or chose not to resolve earlier in life. In other words, too much stress and taking life too seriously can endanger future health. Dr. Carolyn Myss, author of Spiritual Anatomy, says, "Forgiveness is the best gift you can give yourself."
So this idea of an oasis, a sanctuary, has great merit. If we can create for ourselves and our customers a place where the cares of the world slip away unheeded, we are doing ourselves and them a huge favor. We are enhancing the quality of life, now and in the years to come. Let's evaluate the components of a de-stressing environment. Just how do we go about creating an oasis or a sanctuary?
THE COMPONENTS OF AN OASIS
There are two directions you can go in creating a room for escape: simple or lavish. Below are suggestions for creating each of these two looks both with the goal of creating a retreat. Keep in mind that the idea is to relax, calm down and chill out.
• The Simple Interior-It is an interesting fact of interior design that simple interiors are more difficult to accomplish than lavish ones. However, there exists a considerable number of people (myself included) who de-stress best in a non-stimulating environment. This category of people have so much going on in their mental spheres that to also cope with a lot of decoration is counter-productive.
The focus for the simple interior is to take away busy patterns or conflicting hues or values (light and dark) that demand the eye's attention and hence require the mind to process or evaluate what is going on. The undemanding interior is best for the Type A overachiever. The result must be a soothing interior.
Do not mistake this to mean nondescript. For these people are the type who are very mental, very observant, very critical. Each component must be carefully chosen to be right in color, texture, proportion and scale. The interior must be balanced in terms of form and mass, lightness and darkness. It must pass the test of the discriminating eye.
Floors should be textural, but plain overall area rugs are fine if they are not too demanding of attention; perhaps subtle in color and pattern. Wood grain (real or laminate), tile or stone floors are good choices as would be wall-to-wall carpeting. There must be texture here, nothing boring, even in broadloom carpets.
Walls will be understated, yet interesting. Plain plaster is not a good choice, nor is off-white paint. Rather, suggest a pattern with intriguing but very soft texture. This can be accomplished with paint techniques such as sponging, or with wall coverings in faux textures or even with textured fabric.
At the window, the background approach is most appropriate. Simple lines (of both alternative and custom treatments) that are exquisitely harmonious with the architectural background are a must. Added ornamentation must be held to a minimum, yet appealing is a touch of elegance in the way of fringe-tone on tone, never contrasting, only enriching texturally or as a point of ornamentation.
Furniture and accessories should be interesting and reflect the personal taste, travels and interests of the customer. Selecting a theme is a good alternative when the customers aren't sure of their tastes, or have not collected anything worth displaying. Good themes include the environment-based on the desert, ocean islands, mountains, lakes, the seashore. All of these nature themes rely on natural materials with subtle, unpredictable, interesting textures.
Colors for a simple theme include the gamut of tones, pastels and neutrals. Tones are neutralized hues: colors made more dull and dark by the addition of complementary pigments, or by the addition of black plus white (gray) or any other hue or color combination that will render them less intense. Pastels are lightened versions of these neutralized tones: tones plus white.
Because tones and pastels are not clean, clear and bright colors they are easy to live with for a very long time. Today's neutrals are not just tan, beige and gray. Rather, the new direction is tinted off-whites or tans and beiges that are colored. Mixing these neutrals around a theme is a wonderful de-stressing technique. Soft, undemanding colors are a base for this interior. Use medium to bright colors as accents. This is a crucial step because if all the colors are subtle, then boredom sets in and the result can be increased stress, not less.
To summarize, simple rooms must follow the dictum "form follows function" and be undemanding while remaining interesting. They are not just under-decorated rooms. They are rooms that are soothing, caressing, peaceful and restful while maintaining just enough interest to prevent monotony.
• The Lavish Interior-This approach is far easier to accomplish. It is usually based on a theme-perhaps classic antiquity, a summer gazebo, a flower garden, a meadow, a forest or woodland, fruit or vegetable produce, or mystical and far-away places steeped in romance.
On the floor, use soft colors suggestive of your theme in order to set the stage for lavishness. Don't be afraid of color, but do keep it deep and subtle, not bright and obvious. Patterns on the floor can work well when they are crafted to become an indispensable part of the scheme.
Walls often are upholstered or papered with a thematic wall covering, complete with border.
Window treatments are lush and rich. They often are fringed or trimmed with passementerie or appropriate artistic finishing touches. Top treatments with gracious lines over an alternative or custom shade and lavish long side draperies are excellent selections.
Art and accessories also flow around the theme, as do the furniture and soft furnishing selections.
The important fact in the success of these hideaways is that the room is completely furnished. Nothing is left undone. The psychology behind these rooms is that when a person enters, he or she will feel that the room has truly "got its act together" and no further work is needed. This allows the person to relax and absorb the theme in its entirety. While in this environment the person will believe, "This is as good as it gets." This attitude allows the person to feel indulged and pampered like a guest in a luxury accommodation at a resort.
Colors can be dark or light, deep or subtle, even a bright, cheerful island theme might be in order. Shutting out the world is accomplished because we have traveled to a distant shore, another kingdom, a luxury resort, a wonderful space-and all just because we have walked into the room!
Bon voyage! And please, come back rested! I like you much better that way!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.